MySci Daily Round-Up, July 19: Okay, You Actually Can Drink Seawater, But We Wouldn’t Advise It


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Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of French biologist, physician and adventurer Alain Bombard, who achieved worldwide fame in 1952 when he conducted a scientific experiment that the London Times called “foolhardy audacity.” Bombard wanted to test whether survivors of shipwrecks could survive until they were rescued by drinking seawater, which many thought to be impossible because of the high salt content (and the foul taste). To make his point, he set out to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo in a 15-foot inflatable sailboat, appropriately named l’Hérétique, without provisions. After leaving the Canary Islands, he was beset not only by starvation and thirst but by shark attacks and fierce storms. Nevertheless, 65 days later, the emaciated Bombard wandered ashore in Barbados, and summoned up enough energy to walk two miles to the nearest police station. As the Times noted in his obit many years later, Bombard’s hypothesis that seawater was drinkable was vindicated, as was his larger existential point. “The survivor of a shipwreck, deprived of everything, must never lose hope.” And with that uplifting thought, here are the stories of the day:

Sewage-eating robot proves it can sustain itself, without humans. The automaton’s ingenious design enables it to generate energy by consuming human waste. Sorry, hope you’re not eating while you read this.

Scientists discover how memory is disrupted by learning disabilities. The problem is genetic in origin and affects one in 3,500 people.

Millions of routers vulnerable to new version of old hacker attack. The folks at the Black Hat security conference give us even more to worry about.


Laughter is more than just funny. A study shows that it can convey a range of emotions, each occurring in a different part of the brain.

Rare but incredibly cute wide-eyed primate caught on camera. The Horton Plains slender loris has only been seen four times since 1937, so consider yourself extremely lucky to have this picture.


Facebook reaches 500 million users. At this rate, in 87 years, the entire population of the planet will be playing Farmville or Mafia Wars.